Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Favorite Quote

I don't remember if I made this up or read it somewhere, but it has been one of my most inspiring quotes for life management: "The energy drained suffering chaos is far more exhausting than the energy expended causing order." If someone else wrote that, then thank you for your wisdom. If I wrote it, then well, I am just that cool.
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Raising Chaos

Every time my husband goes on work travel, he packs the kitchen elves. When we were married, these midnight elves came to live with us. We never see them, but I know they are there when I awaken to a clean kitchen. I keep telling my husband to leave them here when he travels, but I guess he wants them to clean up after him in his kitchenette. Seems so unfair.

The other evening, it was about 8 p.m. and I was standing at the corner of our L-shaped downstairs. I looked one way, and then the other, confused. It was all clean. I had been busy at home all day, with no time to straighten up. I even said out loud, "Why is this place clean?"

The children were watching television, ignoring my muttering. Then I realized that they were gone most of the day with friends. I always had a theory that it was not me messing things up; this proved it. I also need to keep reminding myself that as a homeschooling family, we are all here 24/7. I will take all the excuses handed to me.

Some may say this is a parenting issue and not a homemaking issue. They are probably right. But by the time I notice that someone left a mess in the kitchen, it is such a massive upheaval that my children both run screaming, or collapse on the sofa with a stomachache, or suddenly have to practice piano. But what great pianists they are becoming.

I'm working on it; my daughter is the designated Dishwasher Unloader. She gets that from her dad. I'm working on getting her to fill it too. But it is difficult with the sissy two-finger method, as if the refried bean pot is soaking in acid instead of muck. "If you had just rinsed it to begin with..."

My son is a great cook. A cleaner he is not. It is simple detective work to see what transpired in the kitchen after he leaves. Cupboards left open, drawers ajar, food on the counter, pots on the stove. You could write the recipe from it. A parent coach might suggest a consequence such as, "You are not allowed to use the kitchen until you learn to clean up after yourself." But you think I'm going to give up the prepared dinner? I'll take the mess for a homecooked meal, even if it is just for him. One less person whining for food. I am teaching him to be self-reliant. And my mother guilt is assuaged even further when I think of what a great cook he is becoming.

I think back to my own childhood. Until we were teenagers, we had to ask for everything we touched in the kitchen. We had a hot dinner every night. There was always food in the cabinets. And you can be sure that the kitchen elves never shirked their duty.

I recently lamented to my neighbor about my kitchen after she tried to wash her hands over the pancake bowl and salmon pan that were both "soaking." I told her that my mother always had us clean everything up after ourselves. I was still rebelling. My neighbor's response was, "The pendulum swings one way and then the other." Cool. If that is true, then the pendulum will swing back, and I am teaching my children to be clean adults. Job well done.

I can hear my son's future wife telling her mother, "Oh, Mama, Sean is so wonderful. He cooks and doesn't expect me to. He serenades me on the piano. And boy, is he a clean freak." Way I see it, I'm looking pretty good.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Gnats and Dishes

I just ran the dishwasher. That may not seem like something to write about, but this morning it seems to be. The light was blinking, letting me know that someone had interrupted its cycle, so I closed it tightly and pushed the button to ameliorate its urgent call. It made a slight moan in satisfaction, and started up in gusto, as if it were starting all over again. I envisioned all the dishes that were in it yesterday, and wondered if I took out any spoons that were only half washed.

As I listened to the wash cycle, I rinsed and organized the flotsam of cups and jetsam of bowls in the sink and on the counter. I planned to empty the dishwasher when it was done, and then very quickly be able to fill it with the neat pile of silverware, and the stacked bowls and plates. I have no problem working with dirty dishes, but for some reason emptying the dishwasher is something I dread. Knowing this, my husband does it when he can, and I have put that on top of my daughter's chore list. And cleaning the kitchen is a never-ending saga in our house. It is always an urgency on my list because I cannot stand putrid smells and little flying bugs.

A few weeks ago, there was a period of time when the kitchen never seemed to be clean, even for a few minutes. Day after day, every time I walked in there, it seemed to be a mess. Worse still, I believed that as a natural consequence there were tiny flying gnats taking up residence. I imagined they piggy-backed in on some bananas, so I cleaned up the fruit bowl. Yet, that did not help. Day after day, there were always a half-dozen flitting about. My husband has a way with slapping them dead on the first try, so he was often called into action.

When he was not around, I could not bring myself to squash them between my hands, so I thought of another seemingly more humane method. I pulled the vacuum into the kitchen, and it sat in the middle of the floor for the next two weeks. Throughout the day, you could hear the momentary whir of the vacuum cleaner as one of us would suck up an unwary gnat with the hose. The kids got pretty good at it. We envisioned the gnats happily living out their natural lives flitting about the dust cannister, never the wiser. But after a time, I was really confused. I had relegated all the fruit to the refrigerator, and the kitchen was back on its clean schedule at this point. In fact, I was scrubbing it daily. Where were these gnats coming from?

It was about this time that I was becoming aware of an odiferous presence in the garage, which is right off the kitchen. It smelled like the afterlife (at least the part that is left here on earth). I washed the kitchen towels, thinking there was something offensive in them, but that did not help. I asked my husband to investigate, since in this household it is the men who deal with garbage, bugs, and small dead rodents. He said he would look into it.

The next morning, he told me the story of the living things whose souls had left their earthly tissue for a better life. It was a pile of potatoes which he had stored in a dark cupboard in the garage. He found them rotted to black and full of all sorts of bugs, including a host of small, airborne gnats. He cleaned it all up, but said there is still a black stain on the shelf to memorialize the incident. He was leaving the next day for a two-week business trip, so it was a good thing he disposed of the mess before he left. I would have called him home on a family emergency.

So finally, we are gnatless. And I am vindicated as a homemaker. I can still say we have never had a roach, ant, or flying bug from a filthy kitchen in this house (truly the standard of excellence for a Messie). And this morning as I noticed the dishwasher finally displaying the steady blue light of completeness, I thought it was perfect timing as I had all the dirty dishes rinsed and organized alphabetically on the counter. I opened the dishwasher and pulled out the racks, with dishrag in hand. The steam fogged up my glasses so I had to wait a moment to see. What met my clearing vision provided my belly-laugh for the day. The dishwasher was completely empty, not a spoon to be seen. It was as clean and shiny as a new nickel. Oh well, at least I don't have to empty it.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Rinse, then Repeat

There's a popular franchise out there that attempts to help people keep their house clean. They call the clean people "Cleanies" and the messy people "Messies." You know who you are.

The Cleanies cannot understand how the Messies can walk past simple clutter and not take the ten seconds to grab it on the way to the other room. The Messies are boggled at how the Cleanies can keep their homes so clean while holding down a job.

Messies are full of excuses as to why the house is a chaotic sty, and Cleanies always offer suggestions for "organizing" so the Messies "learn" how to clean. To-do lists, schedules, delegation--all these tips are an attempt to reform the Messie. These tips fall on deaf ears, because the crux of the problem is that the Messies just don't give a flying hooter. (But what exactly they don't care about may surprise you.)

The excuses that Messies give rarely hold water. (Maybe an occasional excuse from a Cleanie is legitimate, but not from Messies.) Messies are quite talented at rationalization. They rationalize to themselves and to anyone else who will listen. They are just so busy, or too tired, or have no support, or have more important things in life to attend to, or hold relationship higher than household duties, or they are just "disorganized" people with no hope.

The fact of the matter is that Messies do care about their environment. They are affected by the chaos around them, and their spirit vibrates low in their messy home. They do care about exposing their messiness to the surprise visitor, and if given warning, will often clean frenetically to avoid mortification. What they don't give a flying hoot about is themselves.

That may sound a bit harsh, and the Messie's first reaction may be to sit up with indignation, but take a moment and think about it. Say it is a day you were home and no one was coming over. You do not shower, dress decently, or put on makeup or shave. You do not care about your own opinion enough to put out effort. If however, you knew that you had places to go and people to see, you might take that shower, and put yourself together. In other words, your personal hygiene is based on concern for what others think of you. You forget the fact that when you shower and look good, you feel better regardless of who is around. But your own feelings are not worth the bother.

It is the same with the home. If you were taught to "clean up for company" then why clean up otherwise? I am a Messie, I admit. Unfortunately, so is everyone else in my family. I married one, and together we are teaching our children the art. (There may be a genetic factor; sadly our children have it either way.) In response to being told to clean, my children are known to ask, "Who's coming over?" They already know that cleaning is to be reserved for others. Yet we all will readily admit that we yearn for a clean, comfortable environment. We all admit that we enjoy cleanliness immensely when it graces us. Yet we do not believe that we deserve it purely for ourselves.

I do clean for my husband to some extent, and he cleans for me when I ask him. But the effort is sporadic, as he never complains or holds me accountable. And when he is out of town, so much the less. If he came home every night and bemoaned the messy house and chastized me, he would be pleased at how clean the house would be. But manipulation is not his way, and I would be cleaning out of fear instead of love. It is not us.

So the solution, I am figuring out, is to change my core beliefs surrounding my own sense of worth. I will say to myself: "I deserve to be in a beautifully clean home. I am worth the effort it takes to clean it." Rinse, then repeat.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No Soup for You!

It is fall now, and has been for a month, but the weather disproves it. Still, it is the season of pumpkins and falling leaves and soup. I had not made soup for months, but the last week of September I had the calling. I made a hearty cabbage vegetable on a Wednesday, and it took the better part of the day. I did not mind, and neither did my children. There was none left for the freezer, and barely two cups for the refrigerator. I did give some of it away however.

The next Wednesday I made chicken soup. It turned out extraordinary. There is something heartier and more satisfying about chicken stock over the vegetable broth. It must be the umami flavor. My children bemoaned the lack of leftovers again, despite the fact that I made over a gallon. But our neighbor had surgery, and she was much appreciative.

My chicken soup is amazing because of a secret ingredient. The secret has French origins through my mother. I tell our secret to everyone who loves my soup, because I want to spread the joy. I put a cinnamon stick in the stock while it is simmering. (My mother would just sprinkle cinnamon directly into her chicken soup, but I like the stick method.) When I pull out all the used veggies and bones, we eat the carrots instead of tossing them out with the rest. They are infused with cinnamon and are about near heaven.

Here's an interesting aside: what is the difference between stock and broth? Well, stock is made with bones, and broth is made with meat only (and/or vegetables). The bones give stock more body, and that umami flavor, which is the fifth flavor (after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter).

The following week, I made beef vegetable. I do not know what to do with beef unless it is ground, so that is how it goes into the soup. We all enjoy it more than the vegetable soup, again probably because of the additional fat and flavor. I find cabbage to be an excellent filler, and a substitute for noodles. A little grated goat cheese and chopped basil to garnish, and it is worth all the effort. The cinnamon goes into every soup, and plays up the beef as well. I don't believe we shared this soup, but there were still not many leftovers, maybe enough for a second helping the next day. It does not help when the children and I each have three bowls when it is ready.

Last week I had oral surgery myself, and really wanted some soup for afterwards. I decided to make chicken again, but I did it the easy way this time. It occurred to me after I bought a pre-cooked chicken that the bones were still quite useable for soup stock. I cannot believe I have not made soup from the bones before. It made a delicious simple chicken soup. Sadly, I needed to run it through my VitaMix to consume it with the open wound in my mouth. I had to get past the idea that it resembled what soup would look like after it were retched.

Food has taken on a whole new meaning post-braces. My teeth are shifting and sore, and my brackets are tenuously glued on. Just last night I lost an anchor bracket while brushing, and needed to have it reglued this morning. Food that can be consumed without popping a bracket, hurting my teeth, and getting stuck in my braces is king. Today's soup reflected that royal desire. I made the usual vegetable broth, flavored with parsley, bay, and cinnamon. Then I added sauteed onions and steamed jewel yam, and blasted it in the VitaMix to a creamy texture. I called it sweet potato soup even though there was nary a sweet potato to be seen. Somehow "jewel yam soup" does not roll off the tongue quite so easily, particularly with a mouth full of new appliances.

I love the soup. Sean has not tried it yet, but Amanda has. She does not like the "fluffy" texture. I have six two-cup containers of it in the refrigerator, so this soup may actually make it into the freezer. Although, since it passes the test for my teeth and brackets, I may just eat it all up myself.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

Observations on a Monday

Sitting in the backyard in the morning certainly forces attention to the present moment.  How easily I allow my mind to ruminate over the past or fret over the future as I lie in bed waking up.  I carry those useless thoughts outside, and they evaporate in the morning air.  My senses take over, processing what is going on around me.

The birds have an entire subculture existing around us.  The crows are the loud, brash bullies.  The sparrows are the protectors.  The hummingbirds are neutral--too wise to be involved in petty squabbles of the crows and sparrows.  They need to learn to tell time though, because they check the fountain often before it comes on, zipping in wide arcs around the top until they realize the water is not flowing.  It's like musical chairs when the water does come on; whoever is closest gets the first bath.

A few more garden maintenance thoughts creep into my current stream.  I push them aside.  I am not a gardener right now.  I am a visitor.  I still want to go over and pluck a few spent flowers, just to remove the distraction.  I stop myself; it is more useful to practice removing the thoughts.

The fountain comes to life:  first a small gurgling sound at the top, and then the overflow of the top level as water comes cascading down.  Then the second level in turn overflows, completing the resurrection.  I sit and wait for the schedule-challenged hummingbirds.

There is much more noise now:  the fountain, more traffic, the whiz of a landscaper's engine.  I can't hear the birds much anymore.  Maybe it is time to start gardening.  But wait--here comes a hummingbird to take his morning bath.  I watch him dip and buzz.  Another comes to chase him away.  My turn! he says.
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Observations on a Sunday

It is so peaceful in the backyard on a Sunday morning.  The birds are active, and the cars less so.  I treasure the occasional moments when there is a lull in the traffic and all that can be heard are the birds.  These last few mornings I have been out here even before the fountains turn on.  A hummingbird will whisk over, check to see if the water is flowing yet, and jet away disappointed.  She will be back; the birds love a good shower.

Not a leaf on the Lombardy poplars is stirring this morning.  It is eerily still.  I enjoy so much the glittering leaves in the afternoon when the breeze and the sun play with the trees.  They offer our yard such a grand wall of green.  Grand indeed--the only trees around.  All the others are diminutive in comparison.  Lately I have been careful to pull up the suckers that pop up all over our yard; they upset my husband so.  That and errant dog poop on the front lawn.

The silence is disrupted for a minute by the fountain filling.  After the first ten seconds the fountain base is full, causing the water to flood over the sides the remaining time.

The leaves are beginning to flutter a bit, and I feel a slight movement of breeze on my face.  I try to sit here as a gracious visitor, attempting to ignore my perspective as a gardener who focuses on the spent flowers that need trimming.  I suppose that is good metaphorical advice for life, particularly parenthood.  A tenant in common with the flowers in my garden.  Not the superintendent.  But still my eyes seek out the spent petunia and vinca flowers, not content until I pick them from their perch.
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